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An Interview with Stanford Newman

Chairman, J.C. Newman Cigar Co., Tampa, Florida, the owners of Cuesta-Rey and Diamond Crown cigars.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Claudia Schiffer, Jul/Aug 97

(continued from page 2)

CA: You were buying tobacco in bulk from Cuba in the 1950s?
Newman: Oh yes. We made 100 percent Cuban cigars.

CA: When did the Tampa manufacturers begin using Cuban tobacco?
Newman: It started before the turn of the century. The cigar business got started in Key West, Florida, and most of those people were from Cuba and Spain. They bought all their tobacco from Cuba.

CA: Between the turn of the century and the 1960s, the cigars that were made in Tampa were essentially all from Cuban tobacco.
Newman: That's right.

CA: Although you said cigars weren't branded, in fact there were thousands of what we would today call private labels, where practically every corner store had its own brand. When did branding as we know it today begin with cigars, and at what point was the first national major brand created?
Newman: You're right. The brands started to be made at the turn of the century, but we called them generic brands. They were essentially a lot of little brands that were created for different retailers who wanted their own labels. Some small buckeyes [small operators] also created their own brands. Let me backtrack for a second. I asked my father once how he really got started in the business. He said if someone went out of business in the early 1900s, he would buy the labels. If he bought the labels, he would be assured he would get a little business either from the retailers or companies who used those brands. When the cigar companies began to merge, some of the bigger ones, such as General Cigar and Consolidated, started to make brands with a wider distribution. They were able to advertise and have more of a national presence. However, even some well-known brands were still pretty much local. People didn't travel a lot until after World War II and there were certain brands that would be predominant in Akron or Buffalo, or some specific city.

CA: What was the first national cigar brand?
Newman: The first one I can remember is White Owl and there were not many others until the 1930s and '40s.

CA: Was cigar smoking a popular pastime?
Newman: At the end of World War I was one peak when there were about eight billion cigars sold, but it declined after that until 1964. After the surgeon general's report on cigarettes in 1964, it rose again for a while, but it was in steady decline from then until 1992, when less then two billion cigars were sold.

CA: A typical cigar smoker smoked how many cigars a day in the '30s, '40s and '50s?
Newman: Well, in the '30s most cigars were sold for a nickel or two for a nickel. Most smokers had four or five cigars a day. They were very price-conscious. When we raised a brand from five cents to six cents in the early 1940s, we lost half the business. But five a day was about average.

CA: What was the average size of a cigar?
Newman: The average size of a cigar was a perfecto shape that was about 5 1/4 [inches] by maybe 40 ring gauge. They were all perfectos. The pressed bunch didn't come along until later on.

CA: After the embargo began, how did the cigar industry in America change?
Newman: Up until the embargo, most of the premium cigars that were made in the United States were made in Tampa. At that time, they were made of all-Cuban tobacco. We had an association in Tampa which owned a little boat that went back and forth between Tampa and Havana, called The Privateer. It brought tobacco to Tampa twice a week. The boat was usually full. Most of the factories in Tampa stored all their tobacco in Cuba, and they would send down orders and they would load the ship with what they needed for the next week.

CA: Where was this tobacco storage? In Havana, or in the Pinar del Río?
Newman: Most of tobacco was kept in warehouses in Havana after the leaves were packed. Most of the factories in Tampa had their own processing warehouses. Some of them would buy directly from the farmers and they would process and pack their own tobacco.

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Comments   1 comment(s)

Clifford Brown — independence, ky, usa,  —  May 14, 2013 3:47pm ET

That is a truly amazing article!

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